Sunday 3 September 2017

The Ape's Tale: the Planet of the Apes movies by Pierre Boulle et al

I want to tell you about the summer blockbuster War for the Planet of the Apes. 

But I'll get to that next week. (The short version of my forthcoming post is — go and see it!) 

But first, a bit of history about the whole cycle of Planet of the Apes movies.... 

It all began with the prolific French novelist Pierre Boulle. Boulle was working in Malaya when World War 2 broke out and he became a secret agent for the French (and was decorated for his bravery). After the war he wrote a number of espionage novels.

But his breakthrough was another kind of story drawing on his wartime experiences — Bridge on the River Kwai which became an international bestseller in 1952. Boulle would in any case have gone down in history for that one book.

But eleven years later he wrote a novel called Les planète des singes, initially translated into English as Monkey Planet — confusingly and unhelpfully, singes in French means both "monkeys" and "apes." 

And of course they're not the same thing at all. For a start, no ape has a tail and virtually all monkeys do...

But never mind comparative primate physiology. Boulle's novel is of course now known as The Planet of the Apes. It was a brief satirical, sardonic parable. And although certainly science fiction, it was pretty light on the science.

None of that matters, though. It became the basis for the 1968 movie which was co-scripted by the rather wonderful Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone. 

This was a great movie. I saw it at a drive-in when I was a kid, and it blew my mind.

And not just my mind; the movie was a big success. It gave rise to a relatively conventional sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes and then, through the magic of flying a spaceship through a time-warp, a brisk series of very interesting prequels.

These were Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes.

All of these spin-offs were written by the fascinating and talented British writer Paul Dehn, previously best known for having a hand in the James Bond movies.

After Battle in 1973, the series (we didn't call them a franchise in those days) was dormant until the remake of The Planet of the Apes in 2001. 

The writers credited on this were William Broyles (Castaway) and the team of Lawrence Konner & Mark Rosenthal. Together they wrote the movie Mona Lisa Smile and, solo, Konner worked on the TV shows The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire.

That movie was directed by Tim Burton. And I've already said too much about it. A terrible disappointment which seemed to have killed off the Apes and their Planet for good...

But then, ten years later, along came Rise of the Planet of the Apes, written by the team of Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver. 

They crafted one of the finest screenplays I've ever encountered and their film was a thing of beauty and a work of genius. 

It starred Andy Serkis as Caesar, the intelligent chimp, and it remains one of my favourite movies of all time.

If you haven't seen it, seek it out immediately (paying the correct fee to the copyright holders, of course. Writers have to eat).

Rise was followed by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes in 2014, which was written by Jaffa & Silver with Mark Bomback (Unstoppable, The Wolverine). 

It was a worthy successor to that great first movie in what people are now calling the Planet of the Apes "reboot".

Which brings us to this year's War of the Planet of the Apes. And it's a humdinger. Please tune in next week to read all about it...

(Image credits: The movie posters are all from Wikipedia. I know, I know. But I was in a hurry. At least the stylish cover of the Portuguese version of the Boulle book is from Good Reads.)


  1. The computer ate my previous 2 comments so this is a reconstruction.

    I really liked the first movie (1968), was depressed by the second, laughed out loud at the third despite its creepy/scary ending, and never saw 4 or 5.

    Did you ever see the TV series? I don't know where it fits in the timeline.

    Strangely, I had Planet of the Apes action figures when I was a kid, long before I'd actually watched any of them. Not sure who gave them to me or why, since I wasn't really into F&SF then (although I loved the 1970s Land of the Lost - I found out later many well known SF writers wrote for that show).

    The less said about the 2001 movie, the better.

    I enjoyed 2011's Rise, but for some reason never watched the sequels. I'll have to rent them some weekend and do a mini-marathon.

    Interesting review. Thank you.

    p.s., Any word on the Miss Freedom reprint? Or is that a dead issue now?

  2. Hey James,

    My heart goes out to you regarding losing your previous drafts on the computer. "Argh!" is the word.

    Thank you for reading and your thoughtful comments — I did consider discussing the TV series, or at least mentioning it, but the post was already heading for an unwieldy length.

    If you do go for an Ape-athon and watch the reboots Rise and Dawn, I think you'll enjoy them. Perhaps enough to go to the big screen to see War, which I've written about this week.

    Don't despair about Miss Freedom — the reprint is poised to happen in the next few weeks. We're just finalising the cover design.

    Thank you for asking about it!